“If the path before you is clear,” said Joseph Campbell, “you’re probably on someone else’s.”
Whether the next steps you’re struggling with have to do with your classes, your major, your parents or a significant relationship, you may not be able to see beyond the very next brick in the path. Life can’t come with a map because each life, each person is different. This article is about helping you as you choose each step on your own path. It’s about having the courage to celebrate your own unique journey.
So, let’s get started.
In the first place, I’ve got a bone to pick with Hollywood. There’s nothing like movie heroes to make you feel insecure. The message is: life is predictable and even when it’s not, you should be competent to handle it. It’s all a great adventure, you’re the hero, and heroes can resolve their challenges in an hour or so.
Well, thanks a heap. Because propaganda like that makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong when your life takes an unexpected turn. It makes you feel incompetent when you haven’t got a clue about what to do in the circumstances.
“Real lives are made up of a series of challenges, problems,” a mentor once told me. And guess what – she should have added. There’s constantly a new circumstance that you’ve never faced before, and you don’t have the experience or the knowledge to simply know what to do and do it.
Real lives are made up of complications like these:
- You’ve landed in a class where the professor’s English is spotty and you have no idea what you’re supposed to be learning
- You’re in a relationship that despite its good points leaves you drained and feeling dull and blah.
- Your roommate is a morning person and you’re a night owl.
- You’re missing your home and your parents, and you feel sad all the time.
- The major you thought you’d love is a complete bore.
Well, you can relax on one score: there’s nothing wrong or even unusual about you if something crazy has happened and you’re completely stumped about what to do with the problems you’re currently facing.
Here’s what another great thinker, Andrea Lee, has to say: “Learning is what happens when you (really, really, really) don’t know what to do.”
The temptation is to look for a road map to tell you what to do next and next and next.
But what’s so fantastic about life – and so scary – is that you get to create your path. You don’t get to choose all the circumstances, that’s for sure. But you do have a lot of wiggle room to choose how to handle them. And that’s what makes you come alive! Following someone else’s map, doing what someone else did, isn’t you living your life! It’s you living someone else’s life!
Let me share with you a longer version of the quote from Joseph Campbell that this article began with:
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”
Do you remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books? They often come to mind for me as an analogy. Each book consists of a non-linear set of very short chapters. At the end of each chapter, the reader has to choose between two or three alternatives of what to do next. Based on that choice, she’s directed to a subsequent chapter. Each reader has a different experience.
But even in those books, the alternatives are limited and provided by someone else. In your life, you get to invent the alternatives for responding to each set of circumstances – completely!
Now that’s an amazing opportunity.